sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Syrian Proxy War Update

There is a great deal going on in Syria. Normally nobody would care but because a lot of non-Syrian actors have entered the area, each with a separate agenda, it demands some level of attention and interest.

Last week the Russians clarified their position on a Syrian ceasefire. 
A Foreign Ministry official said that Russia will continue its air strikes around Aleppo even if a ceasefire agreement is reached. The Russians also made clear that they would continue attacks against al-Qaida affiliates, such as the al Nusra Front, and against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 
The Russians want to support Assad and in order to do that, Aleppo must fall and they must mop up opposition. That's precisely what Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US in tow, don't want to happen. Russians have defined enemies of the Baathist government in Damascus as terrorists. That would include the US/Turkish/Saudi backed al-Qaida affiliates.
Am I the only one that finds it strange that the USA would now be backing al-Qaida?
The Turks have entered the civil war in Syria over the last few days.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Kurdish backed Syria Democratic Forces succeeded in taking control of around 70 percent of Tal Rifaat, a town between Aleppo city and Azaz near the Turkish border.

This is the latest success in the Syrian and allied offensive against rebels along the border. Tal Rifaat is within 24 kms (15 miles) from the Turkish border. More importantly, it is 14 kms (8.4 miles) from Azaz. The Democratic Forces include Arabs and Assyrian Christians.

In response to Kurdish progress, Turkish forces began shelling Kurdish fighters in Syria and supposedly sent a contingent of Turkish army soldiers to Azaz. Monday, the 15th, was the third day of shelling. Some news sources reported that the Turks shelled Syrian army units as well.
Also on the 15th, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the press, “We will not let Azaz fall. The People’s Protection Units (YPG - a Syrian Kurdish militia) will not be able to cross to the west of the Euphrates (River).” 
Speaking to reporters on an aircraft en route to Ukraine, Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto─člu said that the YPG militia would have taken control of all Azaz and Tal Rifaat had it not been for Turkish shelling over the weekend. “The YPG elements were forced away from near Azaz. If they get closer again, they will see the harshest reaction. We will not allow Azaz to fall.” Davutoglu also threatened that Turkey would make the Menagh/Minakh air base near Azaz “unusable” if the YPG did not withdraw from it.
The website World Airport Codes lists Menagh base as located in Azaz. Other open source reports claim Turkey ordered the Syrian Kurds to vacate the base and restore the opposition group that the Kurds had routed.
Turkish officials provided no details about the number and military specialties of the Turkish soldiers sent to Azaz. Unconfirmed press sources said about 100 soldiers were sent. That number suggests either a core group of advisors and special forces or an advance team for a larger contingent, or both.

Davutoglu also accused Russia of acting as a “terrorist organization” in Syria. “If Russia continues behaving like a terrorist organization and forcing civilians to flee, we will deliver an extremely decisive response,” Davutoglu said. The Turks are now in the Syrian civil war, although they do not yet use that language to describe their actions. They are gambling that the Russians will not challenge a NATO country acting to protect is national interests. Turkey may be expected to deny that it sent any Turkish army soldiers to Azaz.

Turkish politicians are misreading the mood in Moscow. Moscow has a grudge to settle with Turkey. Any Turkish forces in Syria would be legitimate targets for Russian airstrikes. The Syrians and Iraqis have had to endure Turkish military operations against the Kurds inside their borders for decades. As long as the Turks targeted the Kurds, the governments in Damascus and Baghdad tolerated the Turks. That situation has now changed.

Turkish support for ISIL has converted tolerance into hostility for the Turks. The Turks do not seem to have caught up. 

Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen, told Al Arabiya television that the Kingdom sent combat aircraft to Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey. He restated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to stepping up the fight against ISIL and said that the deployment was part of those efforts. Since the Saudis Air Force will be operating with the Turkish Air Force, they will likely strike the Kurds, who are US Allies. 

The pending Saudi deployment represents another expansion of the war. They are attempting a shift of assets to the opposition to try to offset the imbalance created by the weight and effectiveness of the Russia expeditionary forces and other allies of the Syrian government. 

The Turks and Saudis are reinforcing the defeat of their proxies in northern Syria. That tactic usually fails. The moves look belated and desperate. They increase the risk of misadventures in the air, unless the Saudis coordinate with the Russians and the Syrians in addition to the US and other NATO countries.

All of this begs the questions:

  • Who are our friends?
  • Who are our enemies?
  • Is this civil war one where we should align ourselves with Saudi Arabia (and al Qaida)?
  • Is this civil war worth one single drop of American blood or treasure?

I hear politicians chattering on the stump about Syria and ISIL but I don't hear any of them discussing these options, which are critical to developing a strategy. Barack is said to have a strategy, but his strategy is not having one.



Death Valley


At the entrance to salt mine. I did drive in, but
my courage failed me about 1/4 mile into the mine and I backed out.

Technically in Death Valley with Mt. Whitney, CA in B/G.
Death Valley is one of those places that people hear of, but not many people experience. It's about to undergo something remarkable: A Super Bloom - watch here.

There are a number of cabins in Death Valley that are first-come, first served, free to stay at. People and clubs 'adopt them'. Usually there is a sign-in book and an expectation that you will leave the cabin the same way that you found it. Boxcar Cabin is one of those.  

I usually prefer to sleep in my truck rather than stay in a cabin when I'm out and exploring Death Valley.  But sometimes I  break my rule.

Barker Ranch Cabin, used by Charles Manson and the Manson Family
back when they were sacrificing young women and so forth. Not a cabin
you'd want to spend the night in. It's near Ballarat.
I don't know the name of this cabin, but I spent the night here
Inside of the cabin. Note it has a new roll-out bed. I never use the
cabin mattresses. Just put my sleeping pad and sleeping bag on the
springs. In this case, it worked out.
Too "rustic" to overnight in if you can sleep in the rig.

Skull Rock - used by Indians as a holy place. It's well off the
beaten path. Not often hiked to (if at all) by tourists.

There is a lot of "desert art" in Death Valley and across the desert.
Most of it is very interesting. People just put it up to be putting it up.

There is also tea kettle junction in Death Valley and the mail box on
the Mojave Road.

It's more fun to explore when there is a group, but going it alone
works as well. It depends on what you're looking for - or not
looking for. LL in this photo, acting as "guide".
If you're going to Death Valley, best that you go prepared. The area is HUGE and there are not that many opportunities to find fuel. I have the standard 19 gallon tank in the Toyota FJ, an additional 22 gallon auxiliary tank that I had fabricated custom for the rig, and an additional 5-10 gallons  on the rear bumper.

(Right) You see my load-out in the back of the rig. I keep the ice chest, food, etc. in the back seat of the truck. You need water and you need canteens if you break down and need to walk out. A map, compass, handgun, MRE's and a sleeping bag should accompany you on your hike that could easily last more than one day. Distances in Death Valley are vast and it can get very cold there at night. Conversely it can get warm during the day.

There is Death Valley National Park (small) and Death Valley, which is several hundred miles long and a couple hundred miles wide and incorporates several mountain ranges. The one thing you learn about Death Valley by visiting is that there is a LOT of fresh, sweet water in Death Valley. It was that water that sustained a lot of mining ventures that took place there over 100 years. 

If you ever plan to visit, you need to get a book on the history of Death Valley and a contemporary guide book so that you don't flail around and get lost. That happens. People still die in Death Valley.